Unemployment Benefits (copy)

Job fairs can be a good source of leads in the job search, and job seekers may be able to find jobs quicker as the ranks of the unemployed thin out. The number of people seeking U.S. unemployment aid has dropped, the latest sign that businesses are cutting few jobs. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Lynne Sladky

Those who defraud the state's unemployment insurance system could face harsher penalties under a bill approved Tuesday by an Assembly committee.

The bill would allow multiple violations to be considered as one crime. A person who knowingly falsifies information in order to obtain unemployment benefits would be subject to a range of penalties starting with a fine or several months' imprisonment and escalating, based on the total value of fraudulently obtained benefits, up to a Class G felony.

The proposal was introduced by Rep. Samantha Kerkman, R-Salem, and Sen. Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield. They argue the bill would deter those who would try to scam the system.

Rep. Evan Goyke, D-Milwaukee, a member of the Assembly Committee on Public Benefit Reform, said he recognizes the need to address instances of fraud, but argued increasing criminal penalties is not the best way to do that.

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"I wish that we could roll up our sleeves and find a difficult and challenging and more thorough way of solving the problems that all of our constituents have. Increasing criminal penalties doesn’t work, it hasn’t worked and it won’t work in this case," Goyke said.

Supporters of the bill argue it's needed to bring penalties for unemployment fraud in line with other forms of theft.

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Jessie Opoien covers state government and politics for the Capital Times. She joined the Cap Times in 2013 and has also covered Madison life, race relations, culture and music. She has also covered education and politics for the Oshkosh Northwestern.